A federal judge today threw out a lawsuit filed against the Oakland Police Department by former nightclub owner Geoffrey Pete, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove that OPD violated his civil rights. Pete had claimed that OPD deprived him of his due process and equal protection rights under the US constitution, alleging that the department drove him out business after he refused to pay costly overtime for police officers patrolling outside his club.
But US District Judge William Alsup ruled that Pete could not prove that OPD targeted him because he is black -- as required for an equal protection claim. Alsup also said that it didn’t matter under the law if OPD Sergeant Kyle Thomas lied about a shooting and drug dealing having taken place in the next-door garage involving Pete’s customers after Pete refused to pay for police overtime. While troubling, Thomas’ actions, the judge wrote, did not rise to the level of a federal due process violation -- although the judge acknowledged that what happened to Pete represented "a sad turn in the law."
“Assuming that Sergeant Thomas’s statements to [the garage operator] were bald-faced lies conjured for the sole and specific purpose of disrupting Pete’s business relationship with the garage, the success of Thomas’s scheme would not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of constitutional injury under procedural due process,” the judge wrote in his decision. “Sergeant Thomas’s statements to [the garage operator] may have been unfair and defamatory, but they did not, as a matter of law, constitute an unconstitutional deprivation of a protected liberty or property interest without due process.”
Pete, who had acknowledged repeatedly that civil rights cases are difficult to win, was nonetheless dissapointed in the judge's decision. He issued the following statement:
"I am obviously disappointed by the judge's ruling granting the City of Oakland's summary judgment motion. In their deposition testimony, officers of the Oakland Police Department admitted that they passed on falsified information to a key contractor for Geoffrey's Inner Circle [Merchants Downtown Garage], false information that ultimately led to the closure of my club. In addition, senior OPD officials — with their testimony — backed those actions.
What this means is that the Oakland Police Department has been judicially sanctioned — at least in this instance — to override the wishes and best interests of taxpaying Oakland citizens and business owners and run large portions of the City of Oakland at their whim and will, shutting down businesses and public events whenever they want, and lining their pockets with event and overtime fees.
This should be deeply disturbing for all Oakland residents and business owners and particularly to the elected public officials who are charged with overseeing the police and protecting the Oakland public interest.”